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Let’s at least argue about Moneyball using data

I do not deny that the Oakland As record in the past is amazing. People seem to be missing this point. What I am arguing is that they were not successful for the reasons that were most prominently trotted out in Moneyball, namely the ability to find good offensive players cheap. I think it is important to keep our eye on what the argument is. So my conjecture is that the A’s won’t be so good in the future, and that will call into question whether Moneyball was mostly fact or mostly fiction.

Now some facts to help shape the discussion.

Listed below are the American League payrolls for the 2004 season according to the commissioner’s office.

Oakland used to be a low budget team ($30 million in 2000), but not anymore. Their payroll in 2004 was above the median in the American League:

N.Y. Yankees 187,918,394
Boston 130,395,386
Anaheim 115,608,812
Seattle 81,836,597
Texas 79,217,225
Chicago W.S. 64,615,141
Oakland 60,288,197
Detroit 58,812,762
Baltimore 56,811,459
Minnesota 54,795,587
Toronto 50,651,626
Kansas City 44,728,466
Cleveland 42,642,627
Tampa Bay 24,427,167

So let’s not feel so sorry for them in their pursuit of 82 wins this year.

And for all these comments about how I’m an idiot for not controlling for Oakland’s tough-to-hit-in home stadium, Oakland had an OBP of .350 at home in 2004 and .336 when on the road. They also scored more runs at home than away. The Oakland ERA was not much different home or away either (4.06 vs. 4.29).

And for all the talk about me not knowing anything about sabermetrics (I actually do know quite a bit…I will debunk some sabermetric ideas in later posts if people are interested), there is a real lack of empirical bite beyond the supposed critiques being launched in my direction.

Besides, the point I am making is so simple that it doesn’t require complicated analysis to demonstrate. Oakland was average on offense and phenomenal on pitching. You can control for whatever you want, that story absolutely will not change. So how can you argue that hitting is the reason Oakland won so many games? And I don’t think it is reasonable to say that Oakland won’t do well in the future because the inefficiencies in the market for OBP have been driven away. Probably they have been driven away, but they were never that important anyway. If Beane were so smart, would he have let Michael Lewis give away the keys to the castle? I doubt it.

I bet if you asked Billy Beane why Oakland was successful, he would agree with me it was not primarily the stuff emphasized in Moneyball. Two other high ranking baseball executives I’ve talked to agree with me on this too.

I stand by my statement that if Oakland wins 81 games a year for the foreseeable future, it will not be very impressive and the Moneyball mystique will be debunked. If Oakland wins 90 games repeatedly in the future, then Billy Beane is clearly doing something very, very right.

For all of you who disagree with me – and the betting markets – go to tradesports and bet on the A’s. The market thinks they will only win 82 games. If they are as good as you believe, there is a lot of money to be made. And after you all bet and drive the odds up, I will bet the other side.